The Mahavastu (great story)

by J. J. Jones | 1949 | 502,133 words | ISBN-10: 086013041X

This page describes jataka of the female elephant (hastin or hastini) (prose) which is Chapter XII(a) of the English translation of the Mahavastu (“great story”), dating to the 2nd-century BC. This work belongs to the Mahasanghika school of early Buddhism and contains narrative stories of the Buddha’s former lives, such as Apadanas, Jatakas and more..

Chapter XII(a) - The Jātaka of the female elephant (hastin or hastinī) (prose)

Note: Not in J.

The monks said to the Exalted One, “Behold, Lord, how Mahāprajāpatī became blind through grief for the Exalted One, but had her sight restored through[1] him.” The Exalted One said, “Monks, that was not the only occasion that Mahāprajāpatī became blind through grief and sorrow for me, (130) but had her sight restored through me. There was another occasion, also, when she had her sight restored through me.” The monks asked, “Was there another occasion, Lord?” The Exalted One replied, “There was, monks.”

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, on the slopes of the Himalayas there was a hill, called Caṇḍagiri,[2] on the side of which was a wood full of thousands of flowering and fruit-bearing trees. It had lotus-pools and retreats, and was the resort of a number of seers, being secluded[3] and remote. Here there dwelt a large herd of the species of six-tusked elephants. A fine[4] young elephant (hastin) was born there, having six tusks, his head the colour of the cochineal, his body[5] well set up and white like the lotus. When he grew up he looked after his mother with reverence and affection. He gave her food and drink before eating and drinking himself. He duly groomed and cleaned his mother’s tall body[6] with a creeper that grew in the forest. And so this young elephant carefully looked after his mother at all times with kindness, affection and reverence.

Now whenever he had groomed his mother and served her with food, and saw that she lay down, he went off roaming with the other elephants (hastin). And so it happened that he was seen by hunters who were following the chase, and these went and reported to the king of Kāśi. “Your majesty,” said they, “there is such a young elephant living in the forest yonder, such a beautiful and handsome one as would be suitable for your majesty.”

Then, monks, the king of Kāśi, after hearing the hunters, came with his troops to that forest. He caught the young elephant and took it away from the forest. Surrounded by some female elephants (hastinī) he was brought to Benares and lodged[7] in the elephant-stable. The king said to himself, (131) “This will be a fine riding animal for me.” He showered all kinds of favours on him, and himself gave him food and drink. But all this honour gave the elephant (hastin) no satisfaction, for he kept sorrowfully remembering his mother. He sighed deeply, wept, languished and grew lean.

The king in affection for the elephant held out his joined hands and questioned him, saying, “I bestow all favours on you, best of elephants, yet you languish and grow lean and lose your beauty. I never see you happy and pleased and wearing a cheerful countenance. Speak to me, and tell me how I can provide you with what you want. You are an object of love and affection to me, best of elephants. Tell me why you waste away and take no food or drink.”

Then the young elephant (hastin), in reply to the king’s question, said in human speech, “Your majesty, what I need is nothing that can be supplied to me in service or food. For my mother dwells in the forest yonder, and she is old, advanced in years, past her prime, blind and infirm. Ever since I grew to years of discretion,[8] I do not remember myself eating before I gave food and drink to my mother. Though it be the death of me here, it is my resolve that I will not myself take food or drink again without giving my mother some.”

Now the king of Kāśi was just, compassionate and concerned with showing kindness to others. And he said to himself, “It is a wonderful thing that this young elephant should be so devoted to his mother, so just and noble,[9] that during all these many days he has not taken food or drink because of his grief for her. There are not many men in whom it would be easy to find such qualities as these of the young elephant’s. It is not well nor fitting for us to harm such fine creatures as this.” Then he said to his chief ministers, “Let this young elephant go free. Let him go to the wood from which we took him. Let him be (132) united with his mother of whom he is so thoughtful, so that he do not starve to death here and we become to no purpose guilty of wrongdoing.” Thus by the king’s command the elephant was led to the borders of his forest and set free.

When he had gone to the forest he took no food or drink whilst he was searching for his mother. And she was weeping in her grief because she missed her son and was blind. The young elephant, failing to find his mother, went up to the top of a hill and uttered an elephant’s cry. When he had thus roared loudly, his mother recognised his voice, and she said, “That is the voice of my son.” And she in her turn gave a loud roar. He recognised his mother’s voice and went to her.

His mother was sitting by a pool of water, sightless, groping about, her body covered with mire, when she heard the sound of her son’s voice. Then the young elephant cut off some tender[10] creepers, and with them he groomed his mother and wiped off the mire from her body. Filling his trunk with water from the pool, gladly, joyfully and happily he washed his mother.

Thus she was washed, her eyes bathed, all mire wiped off her, and all dirt removed. She became spotless and clean, and her sight was restored. Then the elephant beholding her son in joy and gladness asked him, “My son, where did you go, leaving[11] me in my helplessness and blindness?”

Then he told his mother in full all that had happened, how he had been caught and then set free. She said to her son, “So, my son, may the king of Kāśi and his people rejoice as I rejoice to-day at the sight of my son.”

It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion the king of Kāśi was somebody else. But you must not think so. And why? Nanda[12] here (133), my brother on the father’s side, was the king of Kāśi, and I was the young elephant (hastin). Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī was the young elephant’s mother. Then, also, through grief for me she became blind, and through me she regained her sight. And on this other occasion, too, Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī became blind through grief for me, and through me had her sight restored.”

Here ends the [prose version of the] Jātaka of the Female Elephant (hastinī).[13]

Footnotes and references:


Āgamya. See vol. 1, p. 187, n. 2.


Named only here.


Prānta. See vol. 2, p. 119, n. 3.


Ājaniya. See p. 118 n. 6.


Literally “his seven limbs,” saptāṅga, a proper term, of course, for an ordinary elephant.


Reading uddhataśarīrān for-śarīrāyā of the text.


Thāvita for thāpita, Sk. sthāpita, Pali ṭhāpita. A variant in one MS. is dhāvita. Now, see Edgerton, Gram. § 38. 68 for causatives in-āveti.


Vijñāprāpta. See vol. 2, p. 201, n. 4.


Ajāneya. See p. 118 n. 6.


Sukumāra. See vol. 2, p. 106, n. 1.


Mellitvā. See vol. 1, p. 308, n. 1; 2, p. 405, n. 1. See also B.H.S.D.


See D.P.N.


But is followed by a metrical, and a more primitive version.

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